AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members have tossed out several different strategies to reduce gun violence. The weekend shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest is increasing the urgency for solutions.
“The events of this weekend add urgency, but the reality is that gun violence happens every day in our city and in our country,” said City Council member Alison Alter.
“Too often, we’re geared to be reactive to violence,” she said, and added one way to change that is to create an Office of Violence Prevention.
Her proposal follows the Gun Violence Task Force’s recommendation that came out last week.
The task force created a report advising City Council on how to reduce gun violence. The report explained that the members want to move forward with a “public health framework focused on advancing racial justice” — acknowledging that gun violence trauma can’t be fixed by arrest.
The report calls for making an initial investment of $5 million to fund an Office of Violence Prevention. It would focus on community-led solutions for people and neighborhoods consistently plagued by “levels of structural, community and police violence.”
Alter said, “It’s different than going out and trying to arrest people for possessing [a gun] without a license.”
She told KXAN the office would take on responsibilities like talking to shooting victims at the hospital to prevent retaliation or teaching mediation techniques.
“Getting the mental health response stuff in there, helping the domestic situations to improve, helping folks to find other ways to respond to challenges than with violence and reducing access to guns in the process,” she explained. “What we must do is address the root causes and prevent violence from happening in the first place.”
The task force said there should be an additional $5 million dedicated each year for five years to conduct a community-wide risk assessment and invest in evidence-based programs to heal and prevent further trauma and growth for communities of color.
When asked if the council would have to cut funding from police to create this office, Alter responded, “Everything is on the table at this point.”
For Council Member Greg Casar, however, the answer is yes.
He’s proposing cutting $40 million from police by:
- Removing Internal Affairs and making it a separate entity from the police department
- Reallocating funding for cadet classes this fiscal year toward other forms of public safety, such as an Office of Violence Prevention
- Removing the Forensics Unit from APD
Monday evening, Council member Leslie Pool posted on the City Council message board, also pointing to APD’s Forensics Lab and Internal Affairs as possible places to make structural changes.
Meanwhile, Council member Jimmy Flannigan is looking at a more dramatic change, starting at the top.
“Ultimately, what it means is you don’t have one police chief,” he explained. “You don’t have a singular sworn police chief that manages your whole operation that manages nearly 50% of your tax supported budget.”
Under his proposal, APD would be broken down into five smaller departments with separate department heads — some sworn officers, some civilian.
- Department of Emergency Communications & Technology
- Department of Patrol
- Department of Investigations
- Department of Traffic Safety
- Department of Professional Standards
He said this could work well with having separate violence prevention programming.
“You break up your bureaucracy in a way that allows different functions to have their own ecosystem, with their own set of metrics and their own oversight in their own department culture,” Flannigan said.
He’s also proposing demolishing the APD headquarters building downtown. He said the community could then decide how that property should be used to address economic inequities African American communities face.
The City Council is expected to discuss all of these ideas when they talk about next fiscal year’s budget.